What is the Real Story of Hanukkah?

Part 5 of the historically accurate 8 Part Series

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To read the Introduction to this 8 Part series please click below…

Q. What do historians know of the time period and the external political events that culminated in the Maccabean revolt of Judah Maccabee? If necessary please review important point that has already been covered in previous parts of this series.

A. Aside from what is written in sacred Jewish texts, there is much physical factual data that has been gathered concerning this period in history. At the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, the Empire expanded into Israel at the expense of .

The lands of the former and (c. 722–586 BCE), had been occupied in turn by , , the , and ’s Hellenic (c. 330 BCE), although Jewish religious practice and culture had persisted and even flourished during certain periods. The entire region was heavily contested between the successor states of Alexander’s empire, the and , during the six of the 3rd–1st centuries BCE: “After two centuries of peace under the Persians, the Hebrew state found itself once more caught in the middle of power struggles between two great empires: the Seleucid state with its to the north and the Ptolemaic state, with its to the south…Between 319 and 302 BC, Jerusalem changed hands seven times.”

Q. A central figure in the Hanukah story is the Syrian King Antiochus. Who is he and why is he important to the modern understanding of the Hanukkah story??

A. Under the Seleucids wrested control of Israel from the Ptolemies for the final time, defeating at the in 198 BCE. Seleucid rule over the Jewish parts of the region then resulted in the rise of Hellenistic cultural and religious practices: “In addition to the turmoil of war, there arose in the Jewish nation pro-Seleucid and pro-Ptolemaic parties; and the schism exercised great influence upon the Judaism of the time. It was in that the Jews first made the acquaintance of Hellenism and of the more corrupt sides of Greek culture, and it was from Antioch that henceforth was ruled.”

Q. Is the story of the Maccabees in the Hebrew Bible (What Christians call the Old Testament)?

A. No. In fact, Hanukah is the only traditional Jewish Holiday that is not in the Hebrew Bible.

Q. Where is it written then?

A. It is found in two Books of the Maccabees. These books are concerned with the origin of the Hasmonean dynasty, the , the leaders of the rebellion, and related subjects.

The term Books of the Maccabees mostly refers to two books contained in various canons of the Bible:

, originally written in Hebrew and surviving in a Greek translation, relates the history of the Maccabees from 175 until 134 BC.

, a Greek abridgment of earlier history in Hebrew, relating the history of the Maccabees down to 161 BC, focusing on , talks about praying for the dead, offerings.

Q. Tell me more about the books of Maccabees.

A. These books use the names “Judea” and “Israel” (or cognates) as geographical descriptors throughout for both the land and people over whom the Hasmoneans would rule. The includes one of the Hasmonean kings under the description “Kings of Israel”. Scholars refer to the state as the Hasmonean Kingdom to distinguish it from the previous kingdoms of Israel. The name “Judaea” has also been used to describe the Hasmonean Kingdom although this name reflects the later designation of the region under the Romans at the time of Josephus’ writings in the late 1st century.

Q. What happened after the defeat of Antiochus and his army?

A. It was during the time mentioned above that the Hasmonean dynasty became semi-independent from the but had not yet expanded far outside of . The books are considered part of the by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and by most Protestants, but as I mentioned are not a part of the . They are written from the point of view that the salvation of the Jewish people in a crisis came from God through the family of Mattathias, particularly his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan Apphus, and Simon Thassi, and his grandson . The books include historical and religious material from the that was codified by and Christians.


In Part 6 of this series on Hanukkah, we will explore other information sources for what happened in this revolt other than the Books of the Maccabee Vol. 1 and 2 which are books most modern Jews reference to.?

Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for history, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.

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